Tyler Byrum

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Fittingly, the 'missing piece' Emma Meesseman rallies Mystics to WNBA title

Fittingly, the 'missing piece' Emma Meesseman rallies Mystics to WNBA title

WASHINGTON -- Emma Meesseman politely denies it. 

Even when basking in the glory of being named the WNBA Finals MVP, she will not take credit. Even when she is the lone difference in last year’s Mystics team that got swept in the Finals and the team that triumphed in five games this season. 

She’s shot it down ever since it’s been brought up. Her teammates certainly believe it and are quick to tout to anyone that asks. It was even the first thing Mike Thibault said in his post-championship press conference.

No one will ever get her to say – or admit – that she was the Washington Mystics’ “missing piece.”

Washington raising their first WNBA trophy with Meesseman as the most valuable player says otherwise. 

“She was the difference," Kristi Toliver said after calling her the “missing piece” again on Thursday. “The way she played tonight in the moments that she wanted the ball in the biggest moments, and a couple years ago she didn't. And so that's a huge credit to her and her growth as a player and a person. So she was enormous for us.”

Her story has been well-documented. Meesseman, a 2013 first-round draft pick for Washington, missed all of the 2018 season for a personal break from the game. Without her, the Mystics lost in the Finals to the Seattle Storm in three games. 

A year away clearly paid off as she ripped through the playoff competition. During the Finals, she averaged 17.8 points while shooting 57.1% from the field and 50% from behind the arc en route to the MVP award. Every game she came off of the bench. Every game she delivered double-digit scoring as well as providing some great defensive help in the post against the taller Connecticut Sun.  

Nicknamed “Playoff Emma,” the forward led the team in scoring in five of their nine playoff games. With the regular season MVP Elena Delle Donne hamstrung by a back injury, Meesseman was the one that stepped up to get the team their elusive championship.

That was no different in the deciding Game 5 against the Connecticut Sun. 

Shots were not falling for Washington. From the field, behind the arc, everyone was struggling. It was so bad Delle Donne couldn’t even hit a technical free throw. Washington was quickly down by nine. Immediately when she checked in during the second half Meesseman took over. 

In a six-minute span, the Belgian scored 11 points, all within the confines of the 3-point arc. A turnaround fading-away bank shot, a turnaround jumper with multiple ball fakes, a finger-roll drive to the cup, a standard pull-up jumper and three free throws got it down. She whipped out her entire arsenal, except her long-range game. 

By the time Connecticut realized they had poor Brionna Jones, who had only played 10 minutes in the series before Game 5, matched up against Meesseman, it was too late. 

“I just really, really wanted to win this game, so I just came on the court, and I knew that it was a moment that we needed some energy,” Meesseman said on her third-quarter performance. “I was just going at the basket, and it was going in, so I just kept going. Coach has been talking about, if your shot is going in, or even if not, you just have to take your opportunity.”

Meesseman finished the contest with a team-high 22 points. 

This year she took that opportunity by the horns. Never did Meesseman shy away from the moment. Fittingly it was the “missing piece” that was the one who pulled together a record-breaking season into the franchise’s first title. 

Sure, this title will be remembered as the first for several parties - Thibault, Delle Donne, Cloud among others. They "ran it back," smashing records in the process and are one of the few record-breaking teams to culminate their season with a  championship. It was the first for the franchise, christening the new Entertainment and Sports Arena.

But when the confetti is all swept away, never forget the importance of Emma Meesseman. 

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Elena Delle Donne wins her first championship despite three herniated discs in her back

Elena Delle Donne wins her first championship despite three herniated discs in her back

WASHINGTON -- In the midst of celebrating the first championship in Washington Mystics history, Natasha Cloud revealed how severe Elena Delle Donne’s back injury was.

It was announced that Delle Donne suffered a “small herniated disc” in her back that was revealed from an MRI after Game 2. She actually has three herniated discs.

“Elena not only has one herniated disc, she has three,” Cloud dropped in her postgame press conference.

Despite the significance of her injury, Delle Donne played through it for the final three games of the WNBA Finals. In those three games, she averaged 15 points, including 21 points in the title-clinching Game 5.

The 2019 MVP has been known to play through pain. Last year’s playoff run saw her play through a nasty bone bruise in her left knee. She didn’t miss a single game through that. To this day, Delle Donne still wears a knee brace to protect it from further damage.

The full extent of the injury was supposed to be kept under wraps as Delle Donne interjected Cloud saying that the medical staff was going to kill her. Before playing in Game 3, Delle Donne even mentioned that walking was a difficult task and she couldn’t lie down otherwise her back would tighten up. 

For her third injury in her third WNBA Finals appearance, Delle Donne did whatever she could to make it on the court. She had to win her first championship and did so in her third try. 

Cloud thought it was important for everyone to know her sacrifice.

“When you’re talking about playing for the players and being a leader on this team, being one of the captains and pushing through to win us a championship, that’s a huge testament to both her and Ariel, ” Cloud said. 

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Mystics ‘Run it back,’ cap dominant season with first WNBA Championship

Mystics ‘Run it back,’ cap dominant season with first WNBA Championship

It started with acquiring a generational talent. Then, a push for a championship gave the team a taste at what they were capable of achieving. A slogan arose from the ashes of a championship loss: “Run it Back.” That slogan guided them throughout a dominant season that took no prisoners.

And that's how the Mystics story will go. For the first time in their history, the Washington Mystics are WNBA champions. 

Their quest for a title was not all smooth sailing, although the most efficient offense in WNBA history made it look like it at times. Three separate injuries hindered their superstar Elena Delle Donne. A jammed left knee (the same knee that suffered a brutal-looking fall in 2018), breaking her nose in the middle of the year, and a herniated disc in her back during the WNBA Finals all provided setbacks for the WNBA MVP. 

Former All-Star Emma Meesseman missed 11 games to play for the Belgian National Team, nearly a third of the season. Every Mystic had deemed her the "missing piece" from the 2018 runner-up squad. A Delle Donne-esque player that has the lethal ability to take over contests. She missed all of 2018, she missed a huge chunk of the beginning of the season. 

Veteran point guard Kristi Toliver was sidelined for the final month of the season. Natasha Cloud was essentially the only true point guard in the rotation for 10 games. 

You wouldn’t know it based on the Mystics relentless supremacy throughout the season. There were a WNBA-record 13 victories by 20 points or more and eight victories by at least 25 points (another record). An average win margin of 19.5 points had Washington coasting to a franchise-best 26-8 record.

And 19.5 doesn't even begin to tell the tale. They throttled the No. 2 team, the Connecticut Sun by 43 points, beat the Las Vegas Aces by 29.

Through the injuries, Delle Donne averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. She became a member of the elite 50-40-90 club, the first WNBA player to do so. Unsurprisingly, she won the WNBA MVP.

Without their Belgian forward, Washington went 7-4. 

Toliver, one of the best 3-point shooters in the WNBA’s history, was sidelined and the Mystics broke the record for most 3-pointers made in a game. 

No obstacle could stand in the team’s way.

That energy carried into the postseason as the No. 1 seed. Aside from a Liz Cambage-led Aces Game 3, the WNBA Semifinals was dominated by Washington. Dominated by Meesseman.

In the Finals, Delle Donne’s back could have slowed them down. It didn’t. And it certainly didn’t slow down Delle Donne from claiming her first title. 

Washington was built to win a championship, from Delle Donne on down. They have the best player in the league. Their starting five has no weak spot, littered with future All-Stars. Washington’s bench could all be starters elsewhere in the league. Instead, they stayed together and knew what this roster could accomplish.

For this season, the only thing that was on the minds of players was to ‘Run it Back.’ Nothing could stand in their way of achieving that goal. From Day 1 and for every subsequent day, that foresight was never lost. All their cards were on the table, Mike Thibault and his staff were not afraid to show it. 

Even facing a winner-take-all Game 5, Natasha Cloud had no doubt and guaranteed a championship. 

She's right. Straight facts.

The Mystics ran it back for their first WNBA championship. 

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